Seaman’s 1984 murder nearly sparks Israeli invasion of Galveston

The front page of The Galveston Daily News declares a verdict in the Kedem murder case.

The front page of The Galveston Daily News declares a verdict in the Kedem murder case.

Eliyahu Kedem left the cargo ship docked at Galveston’s Pier 41 on June 20, 1984, and walked into town to buy gifts for his wife and two children. Despite the heat, the 41-year-old Israeli seaman refused to spend money on a taxi, preferring to save the cash filling his pockets for his family. After making his purchases, he headed back to the 645-foot General Makleef, on which he served as the chief radio officer.

As he walked down 37th Street at about 10:30 p.m., a bag in each hand, he passed a group of men standing outside a lounge near Church Street. A few minutes later, two teens on bicycles rode past. Not long after that, a car drove by, its headlights illuminating a struggle near the train tracks just a block from Harborside Drive. In the yellow glow, the men standing outside the lounge saw three men struggling. One man fell to his knees and the other two hopped onto bicycles and rode back up 37th Street, carrying two bags.

The men watching thought they had just witnessed a robbery.

Continue reading Seaman’s 1984 murder nearly sparks Israeli invasion of Galveston

Elderly woman’s brutal murder stuns tight-knit Texas City neighborhood

Gus Luther Hammond Jr. (right) and his attorney, Andrew Z. Baker, as the verdict is read in the Galveston County Courthouse. (Photo by Vaden Smith/The Galveston Daily News)

Gus Luther Hammond Jr. (right) and his attorney, Andrew Z. Baker, as the verdict is read in the Galveston County Courthouse. (Photo by Vaden Smith/The Galveston Daily News)

Delia Smith wasn’t the type of woman who hid in her house and avoided her neighbors. So when they went a whole day without seeing her, they began to worry.

Blanche Taylor stopped by to visit her 78-year-old friend in the early afternoon on March 28, 1966. Although Smith lived alone in her rented Texas City home, Taylor spotted a blue pickup truck in the driveway. Thinking Smith had company, Taylor walked to a neighbor’s house and paid them a visit. As she left, she noticed Smith’s driveway was empty. She walked around the side of the house and knocked on the back door.

When Smith didn’t answer, Taylor called her friend’s landlady. Nelda Simmons promised to go check on her tenant but got distracted and forgot. Smith’s neighbors called again around 5 p.m. Beginning to share their alarm, Simmons took her neighbor, an off-duty Texas City patrolman, to check on the old woman. The house at 701 7th Ave. was locked, the blinds drawn. But they could hear the television playing inside. Simmons finally found a window leading to the back porch that had been left open. She crawled through into the back bedroom and crept down the hall to the kitchen.

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Two stolen T-shirts almost cost a Galveston police officer his life

An aerial photo of the seawall taken in 1977. (Photo courtesy of the Galveston and Texas History Center, Rosenberg Library, Galveston, Texas)

An aerial photo of the seawall taken in 1977. (Photo courtesy of the Galveston and Texas History Center, Rosenberg Library, Galveston, Texas)

As dark settled in over the island on Jan. 21, 1982, Galveston police dispatch sent Officer Oscar Haynes to investigate a shoplifting report at Angelo’s Gift Shop at 31st Street and Seawall Blvd. A man and a woman had stolen two T-shirts from the store before heading off to a nearby bar. Haynes arrested them both and put them in the back of his patrol car.

It seemed like a routine arrest.

But then Haynes decided to take the man out of the car to search him. Terry Lee Zokoloski, 19,  later said he didn’t plan to hurt the officer. He pulled his gun intending to startle Haynes so he could escape. He clutched the .38-caliber Colt revolver in both hands as Haynes spun him around. Then the gun went off with an explosive burst that sounded to witnesses like a car backfiring. The bullet struck Haynes in the stomach. As the officer fell to the ground, Zokoloski ran.

Doubled over at the back of his patrol car, Haynes managed to radio dispatch: “Officer down.”

Paramedics rushed Haynes to John Sealy Hospital while his fellow officers began searching for Zokoloski. He hadn’t gone far. They found him about 45 minutes after the shooting, hiding in a garage near 33rd Street and Ave. Q. Prosecutors charged him with attempted capital murder of a police officer. The woman, Tracy Ann Reed, described as Zokoloski’s common-law wife, faced charges of shoplifting and misdemeanor theft.

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Seawall attacker guts victim ‘like a fish’ in 1970 murder

A postcard from 1975 showing riprap in front of the seawall. (Photo courtesy of the Galveston and Texas History Center, Rosenberg Library, Galveston, Texas)

A postcard from 1975 showing riprap in front of the seawall. (Photo courtesy of the Galveston and Texas History Center, Rosenberg Library, Galveston, Texas)

After spending a fun night out, best friends Judy Mills, 21, and Susan Perry, 20, walked home together down the seawall at about 1 a.m. on Oct. 31, 1970. When they reached 22nd Street, they warily watched a man cross the street and start walking in the same direction, about 10 paces in front of them.

They slowed. He slowed.

Nervous, the girls kept walking until they had almost caught up with the man. When he was only about five feet in front of them, he whirled around. Before they could react, he grabbed both girls around their waists and the tangled trio tumbled over the seawall. Each girl screamed the other’s name as they fell. Perry managed to grab the edge with one hand, slowing her descent and wresting herself free from her attacker. After she dropped onto the granite boulders below, she spotted her friend lying motionless nearby. The man crouched over her.

Looking up, he calmly told her what he had planned: He would rape her first and then come back for her friend.

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The ‘pistol-packing, jail-breaking expert’ Galveston couldn’t contain

A view down Broadway, sometime in the 1950s. (Photo courtesy of the Galveston and Texas History Center, Rosenberg Library, Galveston, Texas)

A view down Broadway, sometime in the 1950s. (Photo courtesy of the Galveston and Texas History Center, Rosenberg Library, Galveston, Texas)

At about 10 p.m. on Thursday, Feb. 28, 1952, two teens swaggered into Galli’s grocery store and tavern at 3228 M ½. Nicodemo Areanas San Miguel, 17, pulled a gun from the waistband of his pants and demanded money. Instead of emptying the cash register, Nick Galli came out from behind the counter waving a knife. San Miguel shot him once in the chest and the boys fled in the car they’d stolen hours earlier.

Galveston police set up a roadblock at the causeway but it was too late. San Miguel and his 14-year-old accomplice, Santos Guiterrez Valdez, had already made it to the mainland.They drove as far as Dickinson, where they quickly got lost. Rather than hunker down and wait for daylight, the boys knocked on the door of a nearby house and asked the way back to Galveston. The homeowner, Jack Milton, got suspicious and summoned his neighbor, Charlie Mills, who called police. They held the boys at gunpoint until officers arrived.

San Miguel and Valdez quickly confessed, admitting to stealing the car and robbing the Esenel Hotel on Seawall Boulevard—where they got $1—before killing 49-year-old Galli. Police also suspected San Miguel of stealing three rifles from Lack’s Hardware on Winnie three weeks earlier. The teen at first tried to claim he was 15, but the birth certificate in his wallet said he was old enough to be charged and tried as an adult.

A judge found Valdez mentally deficient and ordered him sent to an institution for juvenile offenders. San Miguel went to the Galveston County Jail. On March 16, he had a visitor. A few hours later, he sawed through two bars of his second-story cell and shimmied down the drainpipe to freedom.

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Murder for freedom: A daring 1938 escape from the Galveston County Jail

The Galveston County Jail, sometime in the 1950s. (Photo courtesy of the Galveston and Texas History Center, Rosenberg Library, Galveston, Texas)

The Galveston County Jail, sometime in the 1950s. (Photo courtesy of the Galveston and Texas History Center, Rosenberg Library, Galveston, Texas)

At about 9 a.m. on Sunday, June 12, 1938, Galveston County Jail guard E.E. Goode climbed the stairs to the fourth floor “Iron House,” home to the jail’s federal prisoners. He unlocked the outer door and called out to Raymond Tyler, a 27-year-old serving four years for theft and burglary. His mother had come to bring him some tobacco.

When Goode swung open the door to Tyler’s cell, the inmate pulled a gun and leveled it at his head.

“Don’t kill me,” Goode reportedly begged, according to reports in the Galveston Daily News. “I’ll do anything you say.”

Tyler ordered the jailer to release two more prisoners: Pete Calandra, 32, serving a 12-year sentence; and Ed Sutton, 34, serving an eight-year sentence. Like Tyler, both men had been convicted for theft and burglary.

The three prisoners ordered Goode to lock himself in “the tank” with the other prisoners, but the guard hesitated. When Tyler started to push him into the cell, Goode swung his bunch of keys toward the gun, according to the other prisoners who watched the escape unfold. Tyler fired twice, striking Goode once in the chest.

As the guard crumpled to the floor, the prisoners raced down stairs to the first floor, where head jailer William Lindgren was coming out of his office. They yelled for him to open the outer door. He tried to barricade himself in a closet but they caught him, knocking him to the ground. Using two metal bars taken from his cell, Calandra gave Lindgren a savage beating. When he finally dropped the keys, the men grabbed them and ran. They barely had time to notice the wharf policeman standing at the bottom of the jailhouse steps as they careened down the street.

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Buried alive on the Bolivar Peninsula

A Galveston beach scene from 1981. (Photo courtesy of the Galveston and Texas History Center, Rosenberg Library, Galveston, Texas)

Suzanne Clydene Knuth trudged home alone in the dark on April 4, 1980, after her car died in a Beaumont shopping center parking lot. The 23-year-old Lamar University student didn’t have far to walk, and the short distance probably didn’t seem like a big deal.

But as she approached an auto body shop, a newer-model Oldsmobile Cutlass pulled up to the curb next to her and a lanky man got out.

Dee Ann Barthell, a 17-year-old high school student driving to a local disco, watched the ensuing scuffle unfold.

“He had her by the back of the neck and by the hair,” Barthell later testified in a Galveston County courtroom.

Jerry Atkins, who worked at the auto body shop, heard the commotion and came outside to see what was going on.

“This guy was beatin’ up on her and she was screamin’ for help. I thought the guy might have a gun or it was a family argument and that’s not something I meddle in,” said Atkins, the last person besides her killer to see Knuth alive.

The attacker eventually forced Knuth into his car and sped away.

Around midnight, 32-year-old Chester Lee Wicker, a former Marine and out-of-work handyman, got his mom’s Oldsmobile stuck in the sand near Crystal Beach. His uncle, Bob Wicker, lived nearby and helped pull the car free. He noticed blood on the floor mats and smeared on his nephew’s shirt. Wicker said he’d cut his arm. His uncle didn’t ask any more questions.

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Texas City love triangle shattered in 1960s shootout

Charlene Lewis (The Galveston Daily News)

Love can drive a man to distraction. But can it make him a murderer?

Richard Villareal’s attorneys insisted it could. He was a man whose life was wrapped up in a woman, entangled in a web he could not escape. His lawyers painted the picture of a pitiable victim pushed to the breaking point by a heartless woman. They didn’t deny his deadly actions but argued he shouldn’t be held responsible.

On May 28, 1966, Villareal burst through the backdoor into the kitchen of the home at 4015 18th Avenue in Texas City. Without saying a word, he started shooting, hitting Wiley Rogers Barganier four times. Barganier’s wife of two weeks, Charlene, ran into the living room to call police. Villareal chased her down, catching up with her before she could dial the number. He ripped the receiver from her hand, threw her on the couch, and pointed the gun at her face.

Then he pulled the trigger.

The bullet entered near her chin and exited through her neck. Bleeding profusely, Charlene struggled with her attacker, eventually breaking away and running into the bedroom—where she found her own gun. Villareal’s defense attorney later asked where she planned to shoot his client.

“I was just shooting,” she recalled. “I didn’t care where I shot.”

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Attempt to rescue dog costs Galveston jeweler his life

This postcard from the early 1970s shows Central Plaza on Postoffice. When it was opened in 1970, it was hailed as the first such pedestrian-only shopping area in Texas. (Photo courtesy of the Galveston and Texas History Center, Rosenberg Library, Galveston, Texas)

At about 5:30 p.m. on June 28, 1973, Galveston police dispatch got word someone had triggered the silent alarm inside Thebault’s Jewelry of Distinction at 2220 Postoffice. Officer J.S. Curran, on patrol in the area, swung by Central Plaza to check it out. Although the store didn’t normally close for another hour, Curran found the door locked. He peered through the glass and spotted someone crouched down behind the counter. Seeing he’d been spotted, the man ran into a back storeroom, disappearing from view.

While Curran radioed for backup, 50-year-old store owner Stanley Thebault came staggering toward the front door. Blood trickled from a wound on his head while he tried to untangle a rope binding his hands. Curran kicked in the front door and ushered Thebault outside. When the other officers arrived, they stormed the store, guns drawn. They found Thebault’s wife, Eileen, bound and lying face down on the storeroom floor. But the three robbers had disappeared.

The Thebaults waited outside while Curran, officer Bill Scott, Sgt. D.R. Lankford, and Det. Dick Hegman started their search. They quickly discovered the robbers had retreated into the attic, hidden above the store’s drop ceiling. Outside, Thebault realized he’d left the family dog behind. Before anyone could stop him, he raced back through the store’s open front door.

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Galveston’s most compassionate jury

Texas City police investigate the scene of a double murder near the intersection of Loop 197 and Hwy. 3 in 1971. (The Galveston Daily News)

Texas City police investigate the scene of a double murder near the intersection of Loop 197 and Hwy. 3 in 1971. (The Galveston Daily News)

Most jurors believe they’ve done their duty if they carefully consider the evidence and render a just verdict. But the men and women called to decide Fred Andrew Propst’s fate in 1973 wanted to do more.

A Galveston County jury indicted Propst, 26, and James Douglas Zink, 29, in January 1972 and charged them with double murder in the shooting deaths of John Davidson and Grover M. Looney III. Motorists found the victims’ bullet-riddled bodies on Dec. 1, 1971, near Loop 197 and State Hwy. 3 in Texas City. Because their wallets were missing, investigators assumed it was a robbery gone bad. Police quickly focused on Propst after investigators found several of the victims’ credit cards near where his tractor-trailer had been parked at a Texas City plant.

Police in Oak Ridge, Tenn., arrested Zink on an unrelated charge and found several more of the victims’ credit cards, along with the murder weapon, among his things. They eventually agreed to extradite him to Texas, where he went to trial in March 1973. It took a Galveston jury just two hours to convict him of murder and 20 minutes to sentence him to life in prison. Zink pleaded guilty to the second murder and got another life sentence.

But Propst maintained his innocence, insisting Zink forced him to keep quiet about the murders or suffer the same fate. On Oct. 25, 1973, he pleaded with a jury to show mercy.

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